Massaging the Muskrat message

Pam
Pam Frampton
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The message then:

“Make no mistake about it, my friends. The quality of our children’s future will be determined by the choice we make right here, right now. This is our proving ground, and their future is what is at stake.”

— Premier Kathy Dunderdale, Oct. 3, on why Muskrat Falls must go ahead

The message now:

“There’s no such thing as the perfect deal. … When you’re trying to look 30, 40 years down the road, then there’s always going to be concerns. … There’s always fear; there’s trepidation. But what we’re trying to do is give people that degree of comfort.”

— Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, Nov. 5, on how the government understands people’s concerns about the project

In a refreshing diversion from government spin, Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy was surprisingly frank during an editorial board gathering on Monday at The Telegram.

Asked if he thought the government has done a good job so far of communicating the complexities and benefits of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, the minister was blunt.

“No, I don’t think that we have done a great job of communicating this, and I can give you a couple of examples myself, that I’ve done. One is, (I was saying) ‘No debate! No debate!’ Then, a week later, (it was) ‘OK, let’s have a debate now.’ You know, so I mean, that’s not good communication.”

The problem with the government’s Muskrat Falls message till now is that it has been a moving target. One week the project was all about clean energy, the next it was job creation, then it was all about being an affordable energy source, then it was a means of foiling Quebec, then it was a lure for mining companies.

In fact, the deal may offer all these things, but it was being sold piecemeal — leaving the government sounding like it was doing the equivalent of throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if something would stick.

At the same time, the government and Nalcor were trying to respond to critics raising a myriad of concerns — among them, a perceived lack of potential customers for energy, cost overruns, intrusion onto land claimed by aboriginals.

In many cases, opponents were shrilly spurned as being doomsayers, which just made the government sound cagey and defensive.

Backfired

Kennedy acknowledged that the earlier strategy often came back to bite them in the rear.

“As a minister, or as a government, our obligation is to ensure as best we can that factual information is put out,” he said.

“That same obligation doesn’t necessarily attach to our critics, and I can give you an example. … (One critic claimed) ‘power rates will double.’ Well, that wasn’t correct, but it resonated; it was something that was put out there in the public and it took us months to be able to combat that.

“So, this has been an ongoing issue. … Again, it’s that grasshopper effect of jumping from issue to issue, trying to address them all, that has certainly caused problems with the communications.”

In short, the Muskrat message got mangled. The more the government protested that the critics were ill-informed, the more some folks felt there was conspiracy afoot.

That’s what happens when dissent is summarily dismissed.

And you can’t blame people for being suspicious about the government’s single-minded drive to get the deal done. Let’s face it, we’ve suffered our share of boondoggles in this province, so people are naturally leery — and wisely so — when billions of dollars of their money are at stake.

Not a conspiracy theorist

I don’t believe the government is out to fleece ordinary citizens in order to line the pockets of corporate cronies.

Will businesses benefit from Muskrat Falls? No doubt. But how would it be advantageous to the government to saddle us all with a financial burden that we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren? That would merely leave behind a legacy of impoverishment, which carries its own high price tag.

I think the government really is trying to meet the province’s energy needs, and I hope they’re on the right track. But frankly, what any of us thinks makes no real difference, because Muskrat Falls is going ahead.

The government has a majority, so even if the opposition parties were given a chance to participate in a special debate on the project, there’s nothing that will stop the train steaming towards sanction at this point.

This week, we saw the government release a flurry of reports meant to dispel the notion that there are better alternatives out there.

Whether they will reassure people who are still not convinced remains to be seen.

What is somewhat reassuring is that the government finally seems to have realized that its initial approach in selling Muskrat bombed, for the most part, and it is now trying to answer questions rather than shooting down those who dare ask them.

“What we’re trying to do,”  Kennedy said of the new communications strategy, “is to give people that degree of comfort that, as a government, we’ve done a good job in terms of providing the information that they require.”

The thing is, it would have saved a lot of time, energy and acrimony in this province if someone had just thought of that sooner.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    November 16, 2012 - 07:27

    Pam, I find that i am not being shot down, my questions are just being ignored.I have been since feb addressing the issue of efficiency as an alternative to MF. That about one third of our energy produced is wasted due to inefficient heating for our home. That efficient heating is less than 1/4 the cost of MF. Not only can i not get answers, some of my questions don't even get posted on Ed martins site. The new Turn Back the Tide site promised answers in 48 hours. I.m still waiting after 2 weeks. And no jouralist up to now will take up the issue of efficiency. One question is this: I calculate that effficient heating and hot water has the potential to offset 600MW of demand on our system, is Nalcor's estimate much different from that? One would think that this could be answered quickly. But keep in mind that the MHI report stated that we were approaching saturation in efficiency. If that is true, than i am wrong, and you would think they would be quick to shoot down my calculation--- unless their assertion we are approaching saturation is wrong. Which is it? Can you or someone at the telegram get that answered?

  • NLcitizen
    November 14, 2012 - 03:33

    Another guy out to make money? In the Investment field? Hand in everything? Telegram needs to print their occupations and business interests so we can get both sides. These aren't ordinary citizens. They're in it to make money. I personally think we should remember these Muskrat rich business people and corporations, and make sure we don't do business with them. If Muskrat passes. Every NL citizen should have the full list. Use it for the next 57 years as our NL bible.

  • Cyril Rogers
    November 11, 2012 - 23:38

    Ms Frampton, nobody wants to be considered a conspiracy theorist or a "naysayer", as both species are considered to be somewhat odd in this province, especially by the government and its proponents. I guess that makes me an oddity, as I do feel there is very strong pressure on the government to surge ahead with this project and many proponents will stand to gain materially. Just look at all of the businesses that support it and will benefit from the construction phase! Now, don't misunderstand me. I don't blame them for being selfish and greedy, as all of us can be accused of such vices at times in our lives. However, the reality is that nearly every proponent will gain in some way. Are they thinking in terms of fleecing ordinary ratepayers? Mostly likely they are not........ but self interest trumps virtue, in many instances. What it does mean though is that they really don't care to reflect on the impact of this decision on you and me....the ordinary ratepayer. Now, ask yourself why so many other prominent people have decided to become "naysayers" and risk the ire and ridicule of the government and others. What do they have to gain? These are highly intelligent people who also want what is best for the province and they do see the major flaws in this project. Only an idiot would accuse most of them of being biased partisans, as many are former prominent PC's. Of course, the last refuge of the scoundrel is attacking a person's character, so the fact that they can only hurl insults lends more credibility to the arguments of those who are opposed to the project..